|Belichick: ‘We’re all very impressed’ with Chargers||10.20.10 at 2:50 pm ET|
FOXBORO — What does Jerod Mayo have in common with some of the great linebackers Bill Belichick has ever coached? Despite being 2-4, what makes the San Diego Chargers formidable this weekend in Southern California? And what makes the Chargers seem like an AFC East rival? Belichick was asked those questions and more on Wednesday. Thanks to the great work of the Patriots P.R. staff, here were his answers.
BB: We’re all very impressed watching the Chargers here. This is really a really good football team. They’ve had a couple of really huge wins out there at home with Jacksonville and Arizona. I think you can really see what kind of talent and what kind of football team they have. I know they’ve been in this position the last few years – getting off to a little bit of a slow start. This is about where they hit stride and that is obviously a little bit concerning, based on their track record. I think when you watch this team you just see a lot of good football players. Pretty much everybody on the field offensively is dangerous; it doesn’t matter who gets the ball or where they get it, they are capable of making big plays. They can run it. They can throw it. They have a great variety of plays. Norv [Turner] does a terrific job with his play calling and formationing and all of that. [It’s] very difficult to defend. Defensively, [they are] solid, strong up front, tough to run against. They rush the passer [and] play good coverage. They’ve gotten a bunch of turnovers, interceptions, tipped balls, strips. They’re very aggressive on defense. They do a good job on all downs, all situations. They’re a big, physical team [of] guys that can run. They’re explosive in the kicking game. [Darren] Sproles is as good as anybody we’ll see all year. The punter – big punter – the guy can change field position fast. They play very well out there. They handled us the last time pretty easily. Hopefully we can be more competitive than we were two years ago out there. It wouldn’t take much, but it will be a big challenge.
Q: What is it that allows Jerod Mayo to kind of wade through blockers and see the backfield the way he does?
BB: I think that’s kind of just the reverse of being a running back: as a linebacker, you take your keys and you sort of see all those bodies in front of you and basically I think what you look for is some space, because that’s what the runner is looking for. You don’t want to end up where you already have people; you want to end up where there is space and that’s where the backs are looking to go. It’s not where the bodies are, but where they aren’t. It’s sort of the same thing. Defensively, you’re sort of reading the same thing that the running back is reading. Once the initial blocks and the initial contact kind of takes place and then starts to sort itself out or separate a little bit, then the defender is looking for kind of the same thing the running back is looking for from the other side of the line of scrimmage. Jerod has terrific instincts. He had those in college and I think that’s one of the impressive things about watching him at Tennessee – just the way he was able to sort plays out, find the ball, get over trash, get past guys that are around his feet or in the pile in the way and get past that to make the tackle. Of course he’s a strong tackler. I’ve talked, I’ve coached it a long time, coaching Harry [Carson] and Pepper [Johnson] and Carl [Banks] and those guys [and] in Cleveland, Mike Johnson, Clay Matthews, Marvin Jones, Mo Lewis. The more you talk to them, the more it’s hard for them to explain it. ‘What did you see on this play?’ ‘Well, I just saw it.’ ‘Why did you go there?’ ‘I just…it was there and I just felt it was the right thing to do.’ There’s just so much happening in front of you that it’s really hard to say, ‘It was this. It was that.’ But just put the whole picture together and they see something and that’s why they go there. It’s probably the same thing the back sees on the other side of the ball. ‘What exactly did you read?’ ‘I saw this, but in the end I saw a space to run and that’s where I went.’ That’s where the linebacker went to meet him.
Q: Based on instinct like you just talked about, does that make middle linebacker a harder position to coach since the guys that are really good just kind of see it?
BB: I don’t think it makes it hard to coach, but I think some players are more instinctive than others. They have more of a knack for it, and that includes the safeties, too. The safeties are really looking at the same thing: play actions and running plays and plays that are designed to go one way but are counters and cutback plays that go to the other side that the offense tries to make them look like it’s one thing but it’s actually something else or they try to make it look like a run and it’s a run, or pass plays like draws that turn out to be runs. Again, it’s the same thing for safeties and for linebackers of trying to recognize that, sort it out, and figure out what it is. again, it’s the same kind of thing coaching the secondary, coaching the safeties. Going back to Charlie West and Billy Thompson and guys like that, when you talk to them and say, ‘How did you know that was a play action?’ ‘I don’t know. It just didn’t feel like a run.’ And sometimes they read those by the tempo of the line, like how hard they are actually coming off the ball against the defensive line. They can just get a feel of what’s a running play and what looks like a running play. Even though it’s the exact same blocking, it’s just not the same tempo. It just doesn’t feel like a run to them and they’re out of there. It goes the other way too, but it’s really fun when you get around guys who can sort that out as a play action pass and they’re 15 yards downfield and never even take a false step. And then it’s the same running play and they’re five yards across the line of scrimmage in the backfield. It’s just kind of knowing, like all positions – receivers, tight ends, defense – there are times when you’ve just got to make decisions on the field and some players just instinctively almost always seem to do the right thing – the Troy Browns, the Kevin Faulks, the Wes Welkers, the guys like that. They know when to stop, when to keep going, when to slow down, when to speed up, when to come back. You just have to kind of figure out what the right thing is and do what they expect…what that quarterback expects them to do. It’s hard to really put a finger on that, but you know it when you see it.
Q: Do you think that young players will have their learning and confidence accelerated when they experience the kind of growth they appeared to experience in the fourth quarter and overtime on Sunday, especially on the defensive side?
BB: That’s a tough question. I think each player is different. Each situation is different. I think you learn something every time you walk out on the field – practice, games, good, bad. You remember all of those experiences and you try to learn from them. Who knows when the next similar situation will come up again. When it does, hopefully previous experience will benefit whoever had that, whether it was a one, two, three or 10-year player. I don’t know. Really, that’s a tough one. There are just so many things that are happening, but you’d like to think that the more experience you have and the more that situation occurs, then the better that we’ll react to it when it happens again. That’s what you hope will happen.
Q: You guys have an interesting rival history with San Diego. What’s your recollection of this rivalry?
BB: It’s been a lot of big games. It’s been a lot of big games and it’s gone both ways. We’ve gotten handled out there a couple times. We got handled out there in ’08 and ’02. And we’ve won some big games out there. It’s kind of a mixed bag. It’s the same thing here; we’ve been handled here and we’ve done all right here. But it’s been a very competitive rivalry. They’re not quite a division team, but it feels sort of almost like a division team. And there has been a lot of continuity in their players. You’ve seen a lot of the same guys. We’ve seen [Antonio] Gates, and we’ve seen…They’ve turned some guys over this year, but there’s still a lot of – [Quentin] Jammer – there’re a lot of guys out there that we’ve played against: [Nick] Hardwick and [Marcus] McNeill and those guys.
Q: It used to be that it seemed you annually matched up against Mike Shanahan. Is Norv Turner similar to Mike Shanahan in style?
BB: They are both every formation oriented. Norv gives you a lot of different formations. The thing about Norv is the deep ball. He’s a great deep ball coordinator, coach, whatever you want to call it. His offense is very effective getting the ball down the field. Their receivers have great height, average per catches. They always have. It’s been consistent through the years, even going back to Dallas. It seems like as much as you talk about ‘We can’t give up the deep ball. We can’t give up the deep ball.’ He finds a little different way to scheme it up against you and then you get one up and just about the time that he’s catching it, you realize that, ‘Uh oh, they kind of got us on this one. We’re in a little bit of trouble here.’ That really sets up everything else – the running game. The deeper you go to take those plays away, the easier it is for the quarterback to dump the ball off to Gates and Sproles or [LaDainian] Tomlinson, or Emmitt Smith, or whoever it has been. You end up giving up a lot of 10, 15, 20-yard plays that are two-yard passes because everybody is so conscious of the deep ball. You can’t let them throw it deep and you can’t let them run the ball and you can’t send everybody back there and let them screen and check down you to death either. So he does a great job, really, of attacking all the levels: the deep level, the intermediate level, and the line of scrimmage level in the passing game. They’ve had some big plays like in the Jacksonville game they hit Sproles coming out of the backfield on an angle route and it goes for 50 yards. It wasn’t a long bomb but it was a 50-yard play because they gave Sproles a little too much space and you got loose on the inside part of the defense. That’s what he does and he does it consistently. They’re at the top of the league in offense and it’s easy to see why. Their third-and-10 conversion percentage is 40 percent or whatever it is. That would be a good percentage for a team on all third downs and they get it on third and ten-plus. Rivers does a great job throwing the deep ball. They’ve got big receivers that can go get it, plus their tight ends are like big receivers, too. Norv does a great job with his scheme. So they’re good.
Q: Antonio Gates seems to be even more productive this year. Is he better this year?
BB: He’s always open. It seems like he’s always open. I don’t know how he gets so open. They cut him loose and part of it is the scheme and part of it is him. Rivers definitely has confidence in him and looks for him, but there are times when there’s nobody near him. I don’t know how he gets that open. But even when you’ve got him covered he’s a tough matchup. He’s big. He does a great job of using his basketball skills to just get his body between the defender and the ball and you just can’t get it away from him where he just boxes the defender out. He’s got great hands. He’s got a big radius to catch the ball. He can pretty much get it anywhere. I don’t really see a whole lot different, but there’s a lot of him standing in the end zone spiking the ball.
Q: The NFL came out with their stronger ruling about helmet-to-helmet hits. Do you have to meet with these guys and talk about adjustments?
BB: We’ll do everything the way we’ve been doing it.
Q: Did you have a conversation with Brandon Meriweather after his hit last week?
BB: Right now we’re talking about San Diego. That’s what we’re all looking forward to.
Q: Is this the first downfield passing team you’ve really seen this year? Is this a different kind of offense?
BB: Yeah, I mean, I think there are some offenses that will throw the ball down the field when you give them the opportunity. Miami is a good example of that. The more you press the receivers, the more they throw it down the field. The more you back off of the receivers, the more they throw it underneath. I think San Diego, they really don’t care. They don’t care whether you’re up, back one, one deep, two deep, three deep, man coverage, zone coverage. They’re going deep on every play. If it’s open, they throw it; if it’s not, those guys have carried enough people with them to open up things underneath for the quarterback. They kind of make it work on every play. They don’t really care what you’re in; they’re going deep. If they’ve got you beat, they throw it, and if they don’t have you beat, like I said, then you run out of guys to cover Gates – although he goes deep, too – but Gates and Sproles and [Ryan] Matthews and [Randy] McMichael and whoever else is under there. That’s what makes it tough.
Q: Do you expect teams to creep their safeties up a little more as a byproduct of Randy not being here until you can prove you can get up over the top of them?
BB: I don’t know. I mean, defenses will do whatever they want to do; I don’t have any control over that. We’ll just see how it goes. You’ll have to ask them what they want to do.
Q: About a year ago when we saw the emergence of Sebastian Vollmer as he was kind of thrust into the mix there. What’s been your impression of how he has evolved from going from left tackle and shifting to the right side?
BB: Well actually, he started on the right side when Nick [Kaczur] got hurt and right about the time Nick came back, then Matt [Light] got hurt and he went over to the left side. He really played right tackle and left tackle all year last year. He played in training camp; he was our swing tackle and then when both tackles got injured, he was right then left then back to right at the end of the year. He’s one of those guys that I don’t really see much difference with him at left tackle and right tackle. He seems equally comfortable on both sides. His playing style is the same. His technique is equally good and it’s kind of been that way since the beginning. He played left tackle in college and then they moved him to right tackle for, I think it was, the East-West game. That was kind of interesting because he hadn’t had a lot of experience as a football player, period, and then to get switched to a different side in an all-star game. But that actually looked maybe a little bit better, which was surprising. And then he improved over the course of the year at left tackle and he has just continually gotten better here. It’s interesting; some players, they can go from one position to another that it just seems so natural that you wouldn’t even know what their real position is. And then there are other guys that [when] you move them from one side to the other, it’s like watching two different players. [At] one position this player is a really good player and [at] the other position he is just totally ineffective. It’s hard to explain that, but I think I have enough experience – you know when you see that. Some guys can make that transition and some players can’t. But he, for his lack of experience as a football player, it’s been remarkable how easily that has come to him. He’s a very intelligent guy and Seabass works hard. Whatever you tell him to do, whether it’s field goal protection or run blocking or pass [protection], it doesn’t matter what it is, he works really hard to get it right and do it right. He seems equally comfortable at both positions. I wouldn’t have thought that bringing him in here, but after being with him a year, I don’t think much phases him.
Q: So it’s athleticism in combination with this intelligence?
BB: Right, especially at that position, because the left tackle and the right tackle…a lot of times,
When you’re at right tackle, you’re seeing their biggest, strongest, most physical player – run player. And at left tackle you’re a lot of times seeing their fastest, most athletic pass rusher. So those two players, a lot of times, are quite different. But, again, he seems equally comfortable on either side, whether it’s the Dwight Freeneys or the Shaun Elliseses, he seems to be able to match up against both types of players. That’s pretty unusual.
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